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Zoots will reopen briefly so customers can retrieve dry cleaning

The Zoots dry cleaning chain filed for bankruptcy, leaving customers unable to pick up their clothes.Lane Turner/Globe Staff

Customers left hanging by the abrupt closure of the Zoots dry cleaning chain will soon have a way to pick up their clothing.

On Thursday, a US bankruptcy court judge approved a motion that would allow Zoots to temporarily reopen stores to return garments to customers. The Brockton-based chain filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy Jan. 19 and closed its 17 locations the following day, leaving hundreds of frustrated customers without a way to obtain their clothing.

The motion would also allow the company to reopen its Brockton processing facility, where much of the company’s dry cleaning and garment restoration takes place, so that employees can finish treating garments that have not yet been cleaned.

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The dates that the stores would reopen have not been set, but David Madoff, a private trustee appointed by a branch of the US Department of Justice to the Zoots case, said he hopes they will be open within a week. He said he had also been contacted by a party interested in acquiring the company, and the party had been in talks to buy Zoots prior to the bankruptcy filing.

According to the Massachusetts secretary of state’s corporate database, the managers of the company are Craig Goldenberg, Arthur Katz, and Ricky J. Simoneau.

The company had posted cryptic information on its Facebook page about the bankruptcy filing over the last few days, but the site was taken down as of Thursday. Meanwhile, frustrated customers slipped messages under store doors and took to social media to complain that their clothing, draperies, and other items were in limbo. Over the weekend, Srilatha Rajamani of Cambridge was busy buying a new winter wardrobe for her daughter because all of her sweaters were locked inside the Porter Square store.

Some employees did make an effort to return items to customers. The Sun Chronicle reported Wednesday that the managers of the South Attleboro store, Helene Brown and Lisa Gecer, spent the weekend attempting to reunite the store’s 700 customers with their items. The duo did so knowing they would not be paid and then learned shortly thereafter that their last paycheck had been pulled back by the bank.

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Madoff indicated that the actions taken by those employees were illegal, and he would be contacting them.

In his petition to the court, Madoff said the pre-bankruptcy preparations taken by Sort LLC, the parent company of Zoots, were inadequate on several fronts. Employee wages weren’t funded, meaning staffers were paid but then saw those funds deducted from their bank accounts. They are also owed an additional week’s pay.

The company also continued operations on the Friday after filing for bankruptcy, Madoff said. While it is unclear whether the stores were still accepting garments, trucks were making deliveries and the Brockton facility was in full swing when Madoff arrived to speak with the managers that day. Madoff immediately shut down operations.

“They were still operating post-petition,” Madoff told Judge Frank J. Bailey. “If you walk into the dry cleaning facility, you’ll see shirts on the dry cleaning machines ready to be finished.”

Madoff said he hoped to reopen the Brockton facility for three to five days so that the dry cleaning could be completed. He also said the company may be able to recoup additional losses if it fulfills contracts for its lucrative textile restoration business, which cleans clothing, draperies, and bedding damaged by smoke, water, or mold.

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Madoff also petitioned the judge for the ability to bring back managerial staff to reopen the retail stores and facilitate clothing returns. The company also had a home delivery business, and Madoff asked that those garments be delivered to customers’ homes.

Madoff said his office had been inundated with calls from frustrated customers and employees, and he planned to file further motions to ensure that employees are paid all they are owed.

Eric Bradford, an attorney for the US Trustee Program, said he approved of the proposed measures as the best way to expedite the reunification of customers and their garments. The judge, who called the inadequate steps taken by Zoots prior to filing for bankruptcy “disappointing,” ultimately agreed.


Janelle Nanos can be reached at janelle.nanos@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @janellenanos.